AUSTIN (Nexstar) — On Wednesday, Texas lawmakers on the House Committee on Elections heard testimony regarding delays in election results reporting during the March primary election.
In that election, Harris County encountered issues with counting ballots on time, including reporting more than 10,000 mail ballots days after election day.
The county’s elections administrator, Isabel Longoria, testified to lawmakers Wednesday that part of the problem included overworked elections staff.
She said five election workers went to the hospital in a matter of three days, and asked lawmakers to consider how they can help bring more resources to larger counties like Harris County.
She explained Harris County may continue to miss deadlines for reporting election results if current law isn’t adjusted.
“I think it will become increasingly more difficult for for anyone who’s working a paper system to hit that 24 hour mark,” she warned.
“It takes time to be thoughtful about the laws that you have charged us with. And then us being able to put in forms procedures to execute on those laws, as you all have directed us to. The compression of time is also the compression on resources on people, that things have to happen much faster. And whether we have the people or not or the sleep or not to do it. It’s our job to hit those deadlines,” she explained.
She asked lawmakers to consider the ‘elasticity’ of the 24-hour counting rule.
“That 24 hours again, is not elastic enough to account for higher turnout elections, new voting systems, or even bigger counties,” she said.
Lawmakers did not seem ready to waver on that deadline, however.
Longoria, who in the spring announced plans to resign in July following March’s chaos, also pointed to headaches caused by the county switching to paper ballot system, which all counties will be required to do by the year 2026.
“Paper voting, it has its own paper problems. When you talk about jams, right when you talk about we’re even down to the dust on the paper on the optical mirror that needs to be wiped down and recalibrated,” she said, noting the roughly 1,600 ballots in Harris County that needed to be replicated to be properly counted, which also lead to delays.
Longoria recommended lawmakers also consider a way for an elections administrator to request a court order from the Secretary of State’s office directly, when they notice a discrepancy in vote counts.
In the days following the March election, Longoria said her staff had to wait for a court order to be filed by either one of the parties, or candidates, before going through with counting the 10,000 ballots that were found late.
She also noted the votes found were in the room monitored by a livestream the whole time, which is required with Senate Bill 1. They were just not transferred into the proper machine on time to be counted.
Stressful year for election workers
Changes to the state’s election code all began in the regular 87th legislative session, in the months following the 2020 election.
“On the heels of the 2020 election in which Republicans were repeatedly and really aggressively looking for, the existence of voter fraud in Texas and elsewhere, Texas Republicans began taking up this issue at the state level, even though there’s really no evidence of any fraud in the state of Texas,” Josh Blank with the Texas Politics Project explained.
The Texas Politics Project has routinely polled Texans throughout the legislative session on attitudes toward lawmakers’ efforts.
“Some of the more popular provisions like requiring a paper trail for all ballots that were cast and making sure that voting machines aren’t connected to networks are very popular among voters overall,” Blank said.
“Other policy possibilities were significantly more controversial, like limiting drive thru voting, 24 hour voting, and the extent to which local election administrators can send out mail in ballots. Almost all of these provisions were overwhelmingly supported by Republicans and overwhelmingly opposed by Democrats.
Ultimately, the brunt of the changes are felt first by those who run our elections.
“What a lot of people fail to appreciate is the fact that while it may seem like the state of Texas is the one administering these elections, given the extent to which the legislature slates or focuses on the specific laws, and that govern how we conduct elections, it’s really local election administrators that are tasked with actually implementing all of these changes. And this is actually a really big job that’s asked of a mostly volunteer workforce under a very short timeframe. So it’s not surprising to find hiccups, difficulties and a lot of frustration,” Blank said.
This is a developing story. Watch for the full report tonight on KXAN at 6 p.m. by Maggie Glynn.